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Before the Flood

May 2018Mayor David Bennett as seen in The Hilton Head Sun

Some things are good to know before they happen! And though we cannot predict the arrival of a flood, we can take steps to mitigate damages to our homes and businesses. So here's what your Town would like you to know about pending new Flood Insurance Rate Maps:

Hilton Head Island participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which was established in 1968 to reduce the Nation's flood losses through sound, local floodplain management and mitigation practices.  It's managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The NFIP enables homeowners, business owners and renters in participating communities to purchase federally-backed flood insurance. Flood insurance offers an insurance alternative to disaster assistance to meet the costs of repairing flood damage to buildings and their contents.

FEMA conducts flood hazard analyses and mapping studies to generate Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), displaying areas that fall within the 100-year flood boundary.  These areas, called special flood hazard areas (SFHAs), are further divided into insurance risk zones. By the way, the term 100-year flood indicates that an area has a one-percent chance of flooding in any given year, not that a flood will occur every 100 years. FIRMs are used for planning and permitting, for insurance industry purposes, and by individuals who want to know how to protect their property. FIRMs are used to determine whether buildings are insurable against flood risks and to set rates of insurance against the risk of flood. Every area on the Island is able to obtain flood insurance.

The current effective FIRMs for the Town of Hilton Head Island were published in 1986.  These maps, only available in paper format, are extremely archaic.  Proper flood zone determinations are cumbersome and subjective given the scarce reference points provided.

However, in November 2017, FEMA released new preliminary FIRMs for Beaufort County. The local mapping project is part of a nationwide effort led by FEMA to increase local knowledge of flood risks and support actions to address and reduce those risks.  The new maps contain up-to-date flood risk information and tools that are useful to enhance local mitigation plans and help both officials and residents make informed decisions.

FEMA uses the best available technical data to create flood hazard maps.  The preliminary maps were generated using more accurate base data, improved statistical analysis and updated climatological data, thus simplifying flood zone determinations.  Furthermore, the updated data show a 5-6 foot decrease in current base flood elevations across the Town.  

It takes about 18 months from a FIRM's preliminary release to the final product.  Based on the schedule provided by FEMA, the new maps are projected to become effective for flood insurance rating and permitting purposes in approximately June of 2019. 

The Town of Hilton Head Island encourages residents and business owners to review the proposed flood insurance rate maps to learn about local flood risks, as well as potential future flood insurance requirements, and to identify any concerns or questions about the information provided. Please contact Shari Mendrick, the Floodplain Manager for the Town of Hilton Head Island, at sharim@hiltonheadislandsc.gov or (843) 341-4687 for your property-specific flood hazard determination. My thanks to Shari, for keeping us in the know!